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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 26 MARCH 2015 — Circling around each other, arms slicing the air and feet pounding the ground in complex, rhythmic movements, Torobaka, bringing together two of today’s most exciting dancers, was less a meeting of Kathak and Flamenco, than a one-sided struggle with Israel Galvin competing with Akram Khan to take centre stage. The Spanish-born dancer strutted and stamped with pride and arrogance alongside the breathtaking fluidity and elegance of the Indian master.

The piece opened upon a darkened stage illuminated by a rose-red circle of light, a bull-ring. Two black-clad figures emerged and began moving in unison in a rapid and highly spectacular choreography, hall-marked Khan, and the audience held its breath, mesmerized by the compelling duo taking place before them. Each man’s movements were echoed by the other. Sharp, jagged, precise, Israel Galvin’s feet pounded the ground, his companion replying in a fascinating dialogue to rhythm; whiplash movements were performed with Kathak softness and spirituality on one side, and speed and brilliance on the other.

Akram Khan and Israel Galvin in Torobaka
Photo: Jean-Louis Fernandez

In a second tableaux, Khan, graceful and barefooted, with ankle bells, stamped out electrifying kathak rhythms before the staccato intrusion of Galvin in hard-heeled Flamenco boots.

"The ankle bells were my voice", Khan explained to me over coffee one afternoon, before he returned to his London home. "But to Israel, who considered his heeled shoes as daggers, they were weapons. On his side, everything we did was about killing and destruction, whereas on my side it was about creation. What he destroyed, I recreated. Off stage he’s a truly lovely person, but once a show starts, he has to dominate. So there’s me, balanced between the chaos of these two different forms, and there’s Israel trying to unbalance anything I balance.

"You could not get people more opposite than the two of us", he continued, "which was what attracted me and made our whole adventure fascinating; this is an important piece for both of us. I’d never met anyone like him before and until I was invited to see him perform, I was very much against the idea of us working together. "

Familiar with videos he’d seen of Antonio Gades, Khan commented that although he found Flamenco beautiful, he wasn’t interested in a potential collaboration despite the fact that flamenco’s roots go back to India, because he initially believed it could not work. "It wasn’t until I saw Galvin perform and realized our differences that I agreed to get together in a studio with him. And then I was completely taken aback by his first words, which were, ‘I’m sorry, Akram, but I’m going to kill you.’

Akram Khan and Israel Galvin in Torobaka
Photo: Jean-Louis Fernandez

"When I asked him why he’d said such a strange thing, he explained that he had to stab an audience before they killed him… It was the way he had been brought up. To him, I was like a monk, like a peaceful warrior; he even called me Ghandi! Anyway, never having worked with anyone who wanted to do away with me before, I reckoned it was a pretty interesting proposition!"

"So we started in what was the first time Galvin had worked with anyone who was his equal, a new experience for him as he is so used to being in sole control. He’d come up with an idea, which we’d try, but when I came up with a suggestion, it was another story, so I quickly realized that there was no way he was going to come into my world. If I wanted this piece to happen, then I was going to have to go his way. It wasn’t only a difference of cultures, but also one of intentions."

Practically every piece that Akram Khan has created previously tells a story, but the nearest he got to a storyline this time was in the title, Toro, for the bull symbolizing Spain,  and Baka, for the cow, sacred to India.  Disliking stories, the Spanish dancer preferring ruptured, disjointed works, the two dancers eventually agreed on the approach of a series of unrelated tableau. And while it is tempting to refer to the work as unfinished business, Akram’s vision of it is rather of a concert. Aware that they would never agree on a narrative, Khan then saw it in terms of tracks, the entire evening being a concert of six musicians  rather than four musicians and two dancers , the amazing feature of both Kathak and Flamenco being that both are art forms which allow the interpreters to be musicians in their own right.

Akram Khan and Israel Galvin in Torobaka
Photo: Jean-Louis Fernandez

This meeting of two cultures resulted in a riveting evening of dance, an exchange of ideas, the clash between the men being echoed in the rivalry between the four musicians, all excellent in themselves, but also part of this struggle for supremacy. However, the image one carried away home was of the Khan magic, as, alone on stage and with a pair of white flamenco shoes on his hands, he moved along the floor, tapping out the insistent Spanish rhythms with what can only be described as "duende", that mystical, inexplicable quality belonging to the true artist, Spanish, Indian or otherwise.

Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for CulturekiosqueShe last wrote on the Franco-Albanian  choreographer Angelin Preljocaj .


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